At the beginning of 2020, Donald Trump seemed to have laid the foundations to perpetuate himself four more years in the White House: the economy was growing, markets were at their highest, external conflicts were reducing and only internal tensions overshadowed the Republican’s term. The pandemic and a nefarious administration that denied it upset that agenda, put Democrat Joe Biden in the Presidency and left half the country full of undemocratic rancor.
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In January, the country was exhausted after four years of the presidency of a polarizing, intransigent leader who relegated the role of the United States in the world to that of a merchant angry with the previous manager’s business. But having overcome an “impeachment” and with the conservative movement more energetic than ever, Trump seemed destined to win again against all odds.
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At the end of the year and after more than ten months of a harsh pandemic, the picture is very different: there are close to 300,000 deaths that could have been largely avoided, Trump remains entrenched in the Oval Office denying the victory of President-elect Joe Biden , and it sows dangerous doubts about whether democracy is the most apt system to impose the will of a majority peacefully. Every day, many think that guns are their last resort.
The general elections of November 3 were a referendum on the sentiment of the United States. “Without the pandemic, Trump would probably have won,” explains Tom Nichols, a professor at Harvard University and a member of the “resistance” behind the “Lincoln Project”, a group of Republicans and moderates that has opposed with firmness against what Trump stands for.
Despite losing those elections, Trump and his acolytes have succeeded better than anyone in moving tens of millions of Americans into a parallel reality.
“Trump has positioned the Republican Party as the workers’ party, even though it has not represented their interests (…) he has launched all this through the algorithms of social networks to create a reality that is not what they show the facts, ” says Kenneth Baer, political consultant and member of the White House team in the first term of former President Barack Obama.
“There was a time when there were Republican liberals from the Northeast and the Midwest. Those no longer exist. The country lives in absolute polarization because of Trump ”, he adds.
In the opinion of Nichols, who recently published “Our Own Worst Enemy”, polarization is the product of another effect that came with the fall of the Soviet Union, the end of external enemies and the complacency of capitalism. American.
“Somehow we became the decadent society that the Soviets criticized” and the enemy of the US is the American people themselves, sick of a “childish individualism” that ignores the civic duties that democracy demands and has channeled even now its frustration through Trump.
Many Democrats have by now resigned themselves to the impossibility of building bridges with the “Trump Nation.” The United States had become accustomed to the president’s outbursts, his nationalism and his strong-man pretenses, which he showed by his harmony with leaders of authoritarian tastes such as the Russian Vládimir Putin or the Egyptian Abdelfatah al Sisi, and his scant chemistry with the most classic democracy of those of Canada, France or Germany.
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Since he came to power, Trump’s popularity has not risen, but neither has it declined, thanks to a loyal, sometimes fanatical electorate that still confuses the most illustrious sociologists and analysts, for whom “Trumpism” is almost as exotic. like a Guinean tribe.
The president, who in June 2015 was seen by the Republican Party as a charlatan accompanied by the biggest losers and eccentrics of the conservative movement, has taken control of the “Grand Old Party” and has had time to name three of the nine Supreme Court justices, imposing their signature based on tweets, slights and a little luck in American history.
“The Trump voter is not going to disappear. Perhaps in a decade, with the generational change. But for the moment what you have is a Republican Party that has lost touch with reality and is afraid of its own voters. The Republican politician knows the difference between reality and fantasy, but they want to be elected and they do not want to confront their voters with the truth, ” considers Nichols.
Everything started to go wrong in the spring. In February, Trump claimed that the new coronavirus, which was ravaging China, was nothing more than a “flu” and that the around 15 cases that had been detected in the country would soon become “zero cases.”
When the epidemic began to subside in the Northeast, it was raging in the South and the Midwest, and today it devastates everything in a country with more deaths than any other nation on the planet. The covid brings with it an economic crisis that threatens to settle for years in the United States and especially in population groups that until now enjoyed the fruits of an increasingly threatened middle class.
In spring the dead were so many that they accumulated in trucks outside the hospitals and the acrid smell of death was difficult to disguise. This December, the corpses accumulate again in hospitals in El Paso (Texas) or in Wisconsin, further proof of the mismanagement of the pandemic by the Trump White House.
The scant action – by denial – of the US government, despite the noisy masks, vaccines and the virus that is not seen, has hit families across the country, has left the economy on the brink of collapse and has led many of Trump’s loyalists in the hunger lines or intensive care units. Inevitably, it took its toll at the polls.
The pandemic – which is in its third wave, the worst – in the United States led even the poorest whites to rethink their love for Donald Trump, and if we analyze the demographic groups and only the richest ones increased their support, according to data collected during the elections for the consulting firm Edison Research.
“I believe that many highly educated, liberal and moderate voters came to the polls thinking: the mismanagement of the president is affecting my life and I cannot allow this man to continue being my president, despite the fact that in another situation they would have voted for him, ” says Baer.
Probably one of Trump’s great contributions to the post-2020 world is having lifted the veil of many Americans on the existence of the “American Dream,” the myth of the indispensable and exceptional nation that rewards the hard-working, the just, and the delivers justice to the world in the name of democracy.
That discontent was seen on the streets across the country after George Floyd’s death at the hands of the police in May and the brutality exhibited before so many other poor blacks, Hispanics or whites. It has also been seen in the movement against evictions and for a more inclusive America.
The unrest, mixed with the crisis caused by the pandemic, was exacerbated to such an extent that many feared an armed confrontation between ultra-right movements and radical left groups.
Although the blood did not reach the river and the identity crisis of the “two Americas” was not generalized, it revealed the discontent of increasingly large population groups who demand to end the police state in the country and give alienated opportunities to Blacks and Hispanics, also women, for the past 400 years.
The machinery of the Democratic Party got behind Joe Biden, a politician with a shortage of charisma and excess of years who has promised to heal the wounds of the country and restore the illusion about an “American Dream” that is absent for the tens of thousands who wait in the “hunger lines”, the ten million who have lost their jobs to the pandemic and the many more who have no hope of building a family in an increasingly unequal economy.
The United States closes a turbulent 2020, to forget, and faces an uncertain future with millions of hopeless people and many others sharpening the knives of civil conflict, using the machinery of disinformation created by Trump and that he has received in response to the Biden’s moderate government, a return to Obama’s “status quo”.
The future will clarify whether “the American experiment” will promote what the writer EJ Dionne described as a new “desperate democracy” or simply a desperation with even darker ways of expression than that represented by Trump.